In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
― Dwight D. Eisenhower
All the time I hear it: “Oh, so you’re doing ________.” Usually the blank is filled in with Atkins. Sometimes with Paleo. And when I answer, “Not exactly,” I then get questioned about how what I’m doing is different from one of the aforementioned diet plans.
So let me answer that question first and then try to elucidate the differences in some of these plans.
What I’m doing is different from all these plans because:
A: I am not following a plan. If you try to change your way of eating to something like this, you’ll get all kinds of cries that if you don’t get The Book (whatever that might be) and follow The Plan, you’ll fail miserably, give up, and find yourself lying in a sugar coma on the floor surrounded by Dunkin Donut boxes.
I have this revolutionary theory. Brace yourself. It’s based on an observation I’ve been making. I haven’t tested this theory thoroughly yet, so you’re forewarned. But here it is:
Human Beings Still Exist.
I told you it was controversial.
Now I wouldn’t want to get lost in an “If A, then B,” because I don’t always win logic contests. Especially with Brother #3. Or with The Pilot. Few people do. But I think I’ll venture out on a limb here and suggest that if human beings still exist, they probably know how to feed themselves.
As a matter of fact, so does the lowliest insect and the stupidest animal.
To me, this is fairly simple. Our bodies are designed to gain optimal nutrition from meat. We can use fat for fuel just as easily as carbohydrates, though some of us have lost the ability to do it because of a lifetime of low-fat, high carb eating. We can regain that ability. Vegetables and fruit are delightful and necessary garnishes, sides, and accompaniments that round out our nutrition, but they are not our primary sources of nutrition. So I eat what I crave: fat and protein. Yeah, I used to crave sugar, but that was because I ate nothing but sugar all the time (albeit in the form of whole grains and fruit, primarily). Once I stopped eating that, I found I could listen to my body. It tells me when it wants to eat more fat. When it needs some protein. When I feel hungry, it’s because my cells need fuel. It’s not because I live in a “toxic food environment.”
Until my lifetime, people worldwide were, in general, pretty much united on the basics:
1. Animal foods are strengthening.
2. Vegetable foods are sides.
3. Grains are “filler” or, as the Chinese say, “staple food.” By “staple” they mean “the stuff you eat after the meal if you’re still hungry and there’s no more good stuff, like roasted fish or giant jiggling wads of pork fat or beef.”
4. Grains and sugars are fattening and should be consumed only on special occasions.
Returning to the way my grandmother ate, and her grandmother ate, has completely changed my life. Trying to eat like Nanny Nutrition Agents of Government (NNAGS) told me to made me fat and sick.
B. I am not militant by nature. I don’t want to tell anyone else what to eat, and if you choose to eat dairy or you choose not to eat bacon, that’s your business. I get turned off by the militant wings of these dieting plans.
C. I’m not dieting, in the traditional sense. I never count my calories. I always eat when I’m hungry. I eat the things I’m craving. Now, granted, at the beginning I was still craving garbage and I didn’t trust my cravings then. But now that I’ve had a while to heal my metabolism, I can. I’m not dieting… I’m just eating.
Now, on to the main attraction: what are all these plans?
1. Atkins. This is possibly the most famous dieting plan that eschews carbohydrates. It is named after Dr. Robert Atkins, the originator, who realized some decades ago that the whole low-fat, high-carb mantra was having the opposite of its intended effect. By the way, Dr. Atkins did not die of a heart attack as the Vegan Militia claims. He slipped on some ice, hit his head, and died of his injury not long after.
The primary feature of Atkins is that it does away with carbohydrates of all kinds at the beginning of the diet. It is not really high-fat per say, but fat and carbohydrate tend to be inversely proportional in the diet. When you stop eating bread, you have to replace it with something.
I don’t particularly care for Atkins for three reasons.
First, it only advocates removing carbohydrates at the beginning. The whole point of the diet is to gradually put the carbohydrates back in. This, to me, makes as much sense as telling a baseball pitcher that his faulty technique is holding him back, but then telling him that, after getting rid of that technique, he is to slowly work that same faulty technique back into his routine. If carbohydrates are what made you 300 pounds to begin with, why on earth would you ever want to eat them again?
Second, it replaces true carbohydrates with “carbo-like foods.” These would include low-carb grains, artificial sugars, shakes, bars, blah, blah, blah. Stuff like this. I find this disturbing. I’ve talked before about the cravings for bread and sugar. Hugo Rony, director of the Endocrinology Clinic at Northwestern University Medical, wrote in 1940 about his suspicions that it was carbohydrate, not fat, that was fattening. He had become suspicious because in asking fifty of his really fat patients what they preferred to eat, only one expressed a strong preference for fat. Forty-one were in love with starch. He even had one patient who was a laundress and would eat laundry starch by the handful. She didn’t like sweets, and she was very obese.
As I’ve made this journey, I’ve noticed that it’s the starches people can’t do without. Tell someone they have to give up bacon and they may be disappointed, but their life is not over. Tell them they have to give up bread and they start calling you crazy and telling you it’s “impossible” to keep to such a strict diet.
It’s pretty telling when you look at it objectively.
So if that’s the thing people struggle the most with craving, why would you tantalize your cravings for it by eating the same stuff, only not as good, made with low carb flour?
Third, I don’t care for Atkins because it portrays its way of eating as a temporary abnormality. For some Unknowable Reason, you see, all the skinny people around you can eat carbohydrates all they want and be skinny and healthy, but you can’t. You are not to question the Revelation. So you stop eating them until you get skinny. Then you start eating them again, because you must return to Normal.
And a related reason I dislike Atkins–it encourages its followers to eat like all the people around them, in the sense of eating all day long. Atkins never seems to question whether it’s normal for human beings to graze like pandas. I mean, come now. We’re not herbivores. We’re not meant to eat every two hours.
How did human beings function before the advent of the car and the grocery store, if they had to have a snack every few hours to keep going? Being able to grab a power bar, or an Atkins bar, whenever you get the nibbles is utterly abnormal in the history of human existence.
2. Paleo. There are some great things about Paleo. The simplest possible explanation of it is that it advocates eating what our ancestors ate, and not the stuff in 2/3 of the aisles of your local Food City. I have four problems with it, though.
First, they won’t touch dairy products. Here we part ways, because when they say “ancestors” they mean paleolithic ancestors who supposedly didn’t eat dairy. When I say “ancestors” I mean the human beings as far back as we have definitive evidence. And dairy came into the human diet pretty quickly. It’s also largely well tolerated. Of course there are plenty of people who don’t, and of course they ought to avoid it. But my suspicion is that a lot of intolerance to dairy is based on the disgusting quality of that diary.
We were never meant to eat stuff like this:
And frankly, if our dairy cows weren’t fed nothing but corn and grain (which is not what they were meant to eat, either), we might not have so much sensitivity to their products.
If dairy doesn’t bother you, eat it. If it does, don’t. But I don’t think we can just proclaim everyone who enjoys dairy to be a heretic who must be ousted from the Healthy Eating Cause.
Second, they eat a lot more starch than I do. They don’t eat grains or refined sugars, but they do love them some honey and sweet potatoes and fruit. I’ve got no problem with those foods, but they aren’t something everyone has to eat. Some of us are really sensitive to carbohydrates, and we don’t do any better with honey than with sugar. Which brings me to #3.
Third, they seem to be afraid of fat. And when you won’t eat your fat, you have to eat something. Carbs, even “good ones,” are often the choice.
Finally, a surprising number of them advocate the use of fake sugar stuff like Xylitol. Just as with Atkins, I’m not a big fan of things that mimic the tastes that are in the foods that make you sick. If you just give it up completely, you might actually find that you lose your craving and taste for sweet. Maybe you won’t. But you definitely won’t if you keep giving yourself sweet-tasting things all the time. Some of the biggest names in the movement also embrace canola oil, which I find mystifying.
3. Primal. This is probably the closest to the way I eat. Like Paleo, it emphasizes fresh, real food. It embraces fat, while eschewing vegetable oils and fake sweeteners. People who eat “primal” also eat dairy if it doesn’t bother them.
In fact just about the only reason I wouldn’t call myself “primal” is that I don’t need meditation techniques, and I don’t think I need to run barefoot in order to achieve full body harmony and healing.
4. South Beach/Zone. I actually don’t know much of anything about these, but in general I’d refer you to my thoughts about “plans” and my first and third objections to Atkins.
5. Ketogenic diet. This is basically eating enough fat to stay in nutritional ketosis. This is not to be confused with ketoacidosis, a toxic condition that diabetics can get. This is the perfectly natural state of burning ketones–fat the liver produces from your own fat–for fuel. This plan aims for anywhere from 60-85% fat, 35-10% protein and about 5% carbohydrate (usually under 50 grams per day, and often under 20). This is the diet that epileptics have been prescribed for 100 years or more and is perfectly safe. It avoids too much protein, since the body turns protein that it doesn’t need for muscle use into glucose.
It is more limiting than any of the others, so although I actually do eat this way a lot I don’t hold myself to it 24/7. This very week that ever was, I ate two bites of icing from Sister-in-Law 4’s birthday cake, another two bites on July 4th (along with way more protein than usual), and a Hershey dark chocolate kiss. And I very much enjoyed the best candy in the world: Rainer cherries in season. This was a vacation week for me, so I have no guilt.
Go with what works for you. If you want to follow a plan, go right ahead. If you want to ignore dairy, Bossie won’t be offended.
But whatever you do, do what you can do for life.
Plato says he’s hungry
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